Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog has “named and shamed” a beauty service chain, accusing it unscrupulous business practices to boost sales.
Pretty Beauty Centre, which claims to have been in operation since 1985 and has 16 branches across the city, has caused serious financial losses and mental distress to clients because of its undesirable trade practices, the Consumer Council said.
The council said it has received a total of 82 consumer complaints against the beauty chain over the past three years, including 35 last year and 29 up to October this year, involving amounts from HK$374,000 in 2016 to HK$1.3 million in the first 10 months of this year, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.
Fifty of the complaints, or 60 percent, involved unscrupulous sales practices, with the branch at Parklane Square in Tuen Mun named in most of the complaints.
In one case, staff of the beauty chain deceitfully obtained the complainant’s credit card information on the pretext of letting her join a lucky draw, gave her a free smartphone as a bait to induce her to purchase beauty treatment worth HK$168,000, and used her credit card to pay for the amount in 60 installments.
Professor Wong Kam-fai, who chairs the council’s Trade Practices and Consumer Complaints Review Committee, said the company, after being confronted with the complaints, did not take serious efforts in addressing them and improving the quality of its service.
As such, the council decided to identify the beauty chain and condemn its unscrupulous sales practices.
Based on the complaints received, the watchdog listed four trade practices the company had frequently adopted: luring prospective consumers by subjecting them to high-pressure sales tactics; being evasive on the prices of its services, effects of its treatment, and the terms and conditions of its contracts for treatment packages; obtaining credit card payments without the client’s explicit consent; and using undue influence on clients with physical or mental disabilities to induce them to buy high-priced treatment packages.
In another case, a man discovered that his brother, who has a mental disability, had been lured into paying HK$37,000 for five treatment packages, but when he confronted the staff, they refused to refund the money on the ground that the purchase was made voluntarily.
The council said it was extremely dissatisfied with the company’s unscrupulous sales practices and uncooperative attitude toward the complaints.
It urged the government to speed up the introduction of a mandatory cooling-off period on service contracts to strengthen consumer protection.
In April, the council proposed that three business sectors – timesharing, beauty and fitness – should implement a cooling-off period of no less than seven days before the terms of a contract take effect.
Such a clause should be included in two types of consumer transactions: contracts involving goods and/or services with a duration of not less than six months and transactions concluded during unsolicited visits to consumers’ homes or places of work.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau Tang-wah promised in July and October that the government would introduce such a cooling-off period for contracts in the beauty and fitness sectors by putting forward a legislative framework for a public consultation by the end of this year or beginning of next year,HKEJ reported.
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